Censoring an Iranian Love Story: a Novel

Boys and girls, according to an old Iranian proverb, are like cotton and fire - if left alone together, they will destroy not only themselves, but also the house. For centuries, all Iranian love stories have ended with the parting of the lovers. But can the narrator, an author writing a novel-within-a-novel, change this centuries-old ending?

That is the tantalising challenge at the heart of this marvellous tale, as the "notorious cunning of a writer" is pitted against the force of censorship - a force the author well knows, as he was prohibited from publishing in Iran between 1992 and 1997.

“The air of Tehran was a mixture of carbon monoxide, the scent of rain and the fleeting perfume of a girl": such sensual immediacies are interwoven with a rich layering of literary, historical and mythical allusion. Mandanipour reworks old clichés with consummate skill, making the reader's heart "beat like the heart of a sparrow held captive in a fist". This is a writer intoxicated with the possibilities of language, and his timely, well-translated book is about a potent love affair, not only with women, but also with words.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story: a Novel
Shahriar Mandanipour
Little, Brown, 304pp, £14.99

This article first appeared in the 31 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The next 100 years